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Wei Ji Ma shares slides, notes from the 6th IYPT (1993)

Wei Ji Ma (Whee Ky Ma), participant of the 6th IYPT (1993) in the Dutch team, scans and shares his notes and slides on the problems 2, 3, 4, and 5, on the physics behind the gravitational constant.

Download: Dutch-language report on problems 2-5 at 6th IYPT (scanned pdf.)

Download: English-language report on problems 2-5 at 6th IYPT (scanned pdf.)

Download: English-language slides for problems 2-5 at 6th IYPT (scanned pdf.)

Wei Ji Ma (Whee Ky Ma) was born and grew up in Groningen (the Netherlands) but has his family origins in Shandong (China.)

He earned his PhD degree in string theory at the University of Groningen, working mostly with his advisor Erik Verlinde at the University of Utrecht and Princeton University. From 2002 to 2004, he was a postdoc at the California Institute of Technology and, after that, a postdoc in computational neuroscience at the University of Rochester. He is currently an assistant professor in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Wei Ji Ma is the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of the Rural China Education Foundation. He has always been a science and education activist, having founded and coordinated the Complexity in Biology Club at Caltech or the Physics Promotion Team at Groningen. He has multiple interests from chess to politics, theater and classical music.

W. J. M. [In Summer 2009, I] visited my old home in the Netherlands again and was able to find my old notes and overhead projector slides about the Gravitation questions in the 1993 IYPT, as well as my (Dutch) notes for the national competition. Altogether, it is 50 pages or so.

Sorry, the slides and notes have been sitting in my office for more than a year now, and I have kept postponing the rather easy act of scanning them. In my mind it grew to be a bigger and bigger task, but when I came back from a trip and saw your emails, I decided I finally had to do it. And of course it only took me 15 minutes. So here they are. It was quite nostalgic to read back the things I wrote 17 years ago, when I was still very naive about science.

I have scanned the materials exactly as I found them; back in 1993, I had bundled together the answers to all the gravitation questions (I believe 2 to 5).

I hope the materials will be useful. I look forward to seeing the online IYPT Archive! Thanks for all the work you are putting into it. Let me know if I can help in any other way!

I. M. Many thanks for the scanned sheets. Such things do really make a difference in clarifying the IYPT history in all details!

Georg Hofferek, Executive Committee member, has just [commented on these reports], “I liked that problem when I first read it in the collection of old problems however, I think it is way, way, way to “large” for an IYPT problem, you could write entire books on the consequences of changing the gravitational constant… or almost any other constant, for that matter.”

[As a brief remark,] I have a plot showing the percentage of fully theoretical problems decaying with time, as at the early IYPTs there were much more theoretical problems than now.

W. J. M. Yes, it was a very big problem, but on the other hand I liked unconstrained theorizing a lot, probably more than doing experiments. No wonder I ended up in theoretical physics! In fact, my experience with the IYPT and in particular with the gravitation problem was a strong motivation for me to go into that field. However, the thought has occurred to me that devoting four problems to the decaying gravitational constant was perhaps a bit much, given that there was a lot of overlap and it reduced the diversity of the problem set overall. Nevertheless, I think it is amazing that it is possible to come up with interesting theoretical problems that high school students can say something about.

I. M. Many thanks for explaining your motivation in this problem. It is really amazing how the IYPT was helping participants to develop motivation and to continue with research, and it is always very nice to better know about such experiences.

In late 2008, Wei Ji Ma gave a detailed interview on his experience at the 6th IYPT, scanning and sharing many original documents from 1993. He found further slides and reports in Summer 2009, and scanned them on November 2, 2010.

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